brock and darla

WSHS senior Brock Stevens and Labrador Retriever Darla pause for a photo in between training sessions. Stevens senior project is geared at training Darla to hunt pheasants and retrieve ducks.   

Wessington Springs High School senior Brock Stevens is utilizing two things he loves — upland bird hunting and growing up with a knowledge of training dogs — to develop a specialized dog training program for his black Labrador Retriever Darla as his senior project.   

“I got Darla as a puppy and wanted her to hunt and be trained,” Stevens said. “I’ve never done it solely by myself and was interested in taking this on for my senior project.” 

Brock explained that he and his brothers have trained dogs with their dad John Stevens throughout childhood for their own use and to help them host out of state hunters. 

For his project, Stevens has been working closely with his project mentor, Joe Thyne. 

“He is very knowledgable about training dogs and runs a bunch of pointers and labs in Iowa,” Stevens said of his mentor who has been hunting pheasant with his family in previous years.

Stevens explained that he trains Darla, who is named after the character in Little Rascals,  using positive reinforcement techniques. 

“At first I train with treats and attention, rewarding for each little step forward,” he said. “I mainly reward with positive attention, petting her and saying good job.”

Stevens said he started training Darla in basic obedience such as sit, laying down, stay and come in August of last year. They continued towards more advanced techniques including dummy and bird retrieval in the field during fall months. Stevens said that he also had Darla follow an older, already-trained dog in the field during pheasant hunting season.   

As for defending his senior project to judges this spring, Stevens says he plans on delivering a  presentation that includes videos of a variety of training techniques as well as in-person demonstrations with Darla at school.